Explore: /ikˈsplôr/ verb: When your inner voice implores you to be more adventurous and to do that you can just go skiing at Whistler Blackcomb.

Author: Leslie Anthony

I didn’t know precisely where I was, but I didn’t think I was lost. I also didn’t think about the fact that I could live and ski somewhere for 20 years and never see this run. What I did think, gazing down from a windswept ridge to a powdery track through the trees, was how good it was going to be.

A hundred turns of fat, light flakes streaming up and over my shoulders. At the bottom, mesmerized by my serendipity, I resumed my inquiry. Could I have actually been here before, but it looked—as much of the mountain does over its annual inundation with 36 feet of snow—completely different? Or maybe it was just the vertigo-inducing whiteout of another massive Pacific front that rendered it unfamiliar.

Regardless, I considered none of this in the context of returning to a lift as I knew all in-bounds ridges and bowls funneled back to humanity-gathering cat-roads. I was only trying to figure out how I got to this spot so I could find my way back again. If no one else bumbled into it in the interim, I’d sign my name to another knee-deep run. And I knew there was a good chance that in a storm like this, in a place this big, no one else would find it.

Photo: Grant Gunderson

For adventurous skiers, Whistler Blackcomb proves one thing to North Americans that their European counterparts already know: size matters. That, more than anything, is why I live here: room to lose myself, every day, without being lost at all. While either of the resort’s two mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb—can deliver this on their own, together they offer a lifetime of option and adventure. I often feel as Captain Kirk must have when he uttered the famous words in the opener of the original “Star Trek:” “Space—the final frontier.”

On a vertical landscape, this space delivers diversity, opportunity, surprise. Like many, I might have been enticed to Whistler by pictures, movies, and stories, but the facts on the ground spoke for themselves. Two mountains, 37 lifts, a dozen on-mountain restaurants, 13 alpine bowls, three glaciers, 1 mile of vertical, and more than 7,900 acres of trees, bumps, steeps, chutes, cruisers, and anything else you could think of to fill a curious snowslider’s soul. And then there were the open boundaries—a world of ski-touring amidst blue-toothed icecaps and untouched alpine that could render you speechless.

The wilderness surrounding Whistler, in fact, seems so oceanic that it reduces the resort to an island within. Riding the lifts, I’ve seen bears just out of hibernation standing erect with their nose to the wind and mountain lions trotting across a run. From the summits of these two peaks, with the village diminished to the size of a thumbnail, it can seem as if it weren’t there at all.

Photo: Grant Gunderson

For visitors that are starved for true wilderness, this itself is a potent draw—the reason the village presents as a bustling Tower of Babel awash in the lilts and twangs of a dozen different languages. This same vibrancy constitutes Whistler’s multicultural heritage as the most international and cosmopolitan of North American resorts—a point of exploration for citizens and visitors alike, reflected, among other ways, in the culinary diversity of nearly 200 dining and drinking establishments.

If exploration is a ship that sails on whim, I found the many distractions as cross breezes for an entirely separate voyage of winter discovery: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, ice-climbing, dog-sledding, bungee jumping, zip-lining, bobsledding, and cultural offerings like the Audain Art Museum, a daily festival’s worth of live music, and a surfeit of film, photography, arts, and snow sports events culminating in the legendary springtime World Ski & Snowboard Festival. It has the stimulus and variety of a big city in a small-town setting. And there’s no age-limit to get on board—my kids and yours can join free ski safaris around the mountains (a good investment for parents as young folks seem to have a better memory for cool zones and are happy to show you), and five terrain parks, tube park, skatepark, pool complex, and pump track head off any other boredom-induced whining. Young or old, living here or visiting, one thing was clear to me from the start: in Whistler, exploring was just what you did.

Photo: Grant Gunderson

I’m not the first to appreciate all of this, of course. In fact, it’s what a global fleet of ratings-happy ski magazines point to while annually singing Whistler’s praises. Like these words from a 1996 resort guide: “Given the hyperbolic publicity it receives, there’s a danger the Whistler Blackcomb colossus could become the most overrated ski resort on the planet. The truth, however, is that the size of these mountains, the access to glaciers and high alpine, the sheer scope and diversity of terrain, and the spectacular setting, combine to make Whistler Resort an untouchable experience on this continent.”

Like many glowing reports bestowed by ski writers who need to make a buck, I wasn’t entirely convinced when I wrote them—though, having experienced only a fraction of Whistler’s terrain over a few visits, I had strong suspicions. Today, as a resident, I can look back on those words as trite understatement: even the hype didn’t live up to the reality.

Photo: Grant Gunderson

Sleep: Between big-city luxury hotel flagships (Four Seasons, Fairmont, Hilton, Westin, etc.) and high-end hostel options (Pangea Pod Hotel) are an array of comfortable middle-ground sleeps. Standing out is Adara, a modern boutique hotel in the heart of the village that combines Whistler’s rustic heritage with modern interior design, and it’s only steps from dozens of restaurants and bars and a three-minute stroll from the lifts.

Eat: Choice is a non-issue, whether winnowing for price point, kid-friendly, vegan, casual, or fine-dining. With the Pacific Ocean minutes away, Whistler is best known for Pacific Northwest fusion: try Araxi or Bearfoot Bistro in the village, and Red Door Bistro or Rimrock Café in Creekside. You’ll also hit the intertidal jackpot with Sushi Village or Sachi Sushi. Friendly and funky Pasta Lupino’s homemade take on Italian comfort food is the reason it’s so popular, despite its tiny size.

Après: If St. Anton, Austria’s Moosewirt and Krazy Kanguruh represent the acme of après partying in Europe, then The Longhorn Saloon and Garibaldi Lift Company in Whistler Village, Merlin’s at Blackcomb base, and Dusty’s in Creekside collectively set the standard for North America. All are loud, raucous, beer-based, food-forward, and freak-friendly.

Don’t miss: Bootpack up Spanky’s Ladder off Glacier Chair to access Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire Bowls—a sector large enough to be its own ski area. A five-minute hike above Showcase T-bar gets you to Blackcomb Glacier; make the spectacular 8-kilometre cruise back to Blackcomb’s lift network or access the glaciated backcountry of Garibaldi Provincial Park through a gate. Also, legacies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are many and varied: check out Whistler Olympic Plaza in Village North, pose at the Olympic rings above Creekside, visit the Athlete’s Village—now a family-filled neighbourhood—in Cheakamus Crossing, take a 68-mph bobsled run (with professionals, of course) at the Whistler Sliding Centre, and cross-country ski at the Nordic venue in Callaghan Valley.

Getting There

A short drive from Vancouver, which has daily flights connecting from all across the United States, Whistler is closer than you think. 

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